I am in the “letting go” years of motherhood. I know Alzheimer’s disease is considered the long-goodbye, but having teenagers feels as much so. Except instead of forgetting precious memories, I am flooded with them: story times at the library, field trips to the zoo, class parties, countless baseball games, first dances, and ordinary moments that have aged into extraordinary memories.
It is often said of parenting that the days are long but the years are short. I would only add that the years get successively faster like a racing heart sprinting toward the finish line. The teenage years are propelled with a momentum that has little to do with parenting but is filled with our children’s pursuits. We no longer set the pace of their days. Instead, we race to keep up or merely watch their projection as they shoot off like a ball in a pinball machine: hither and yonder, to and fro, until they finally land in their beds at night. Still. Safe. Ours.
But the truth is they were never ours to keep. They were trusted to us by an ever-generous God for what suddenly feels like too little time. Somehow, he put us together knowing that we will each learn from the other. We are shown we could love more than seemed physically possible and that we can stretch beyond what we once considered strong to a surprisingly soft place of resilience. I can’t think of anything else that compares to the ways it has broken me, built me anew, and taught lessons that only love could teach.
Most of us overcomplicate things. I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag. It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this). It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.
By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned. Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice. If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit. That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up. As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.
I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose. Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question. “What am I doing with my life?” “What color is my parachute?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things. My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’” While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more
I know songs have been written about the ease of Sunday morning, but I wish someone would write one about the angst of a Sunday evening. That’s the twitchiest night of the week for me as I transition from the charms of the weekend to the schisms of the work week. I feel like the amiable comic book character, Pig Pen, created by Charles Shultz, traveling in my own dust storm with all the to-do’s swirling around me making a filthy mess of what was once a peaceful mind. The more I do, the more I realize how far behind I really am and the dirt cakes on — further muddying my panic.
I sort through emails. I make piles. I do laundry. I boss children — an echo of repetition. I try to remember what I needed to talk to my husband about. I usually can’t. I make lists. I pick up abandoned glasses and clip close half-eaten bags of chips laying carelessly on the counter. In all my busying, I only seem to find more to do. Each task leads to another – a maze in the making. I scatter about in the dusty swirl of tedium past bedtime – past reason. My son asks me to review his cover letter for an internship he is applying for and I stop. In that instant, where I was given one more thing to do– when I was already so done, I would have envisioned being buried under the muck of a mudslide. Instead, I felt the clarity of grace. I felt its calm and its cleanse, as I realized I belong in the middle of the mess. It’s there that my independent, almost adult child asked for my input. It’s there that the mess suddenly stopped choking me and I breathed into the precious moment of mothering.
Our to-do’s will never be done and life will always be messy no matter how much tidying we do. Serving others in the midst of it is the grace that makes life meaningful. It gives order to chaos. It realigns priorities and it reinvigorates efforts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).
Sometimes I feel like a tiny bird with an injured leg from an encounter with the claws of a crazed cat. I know how lucky I am to be here and how much worse things could be; yet, still, I carry a limp from my wounds that sometimes keeps me tethered to the ground. (I might start telling people that when they ask me how I am doing.)
Life is so darn messy and most of us try terribly hard to tidy what we can. In its constancy, it can feel like a marathon, and like the tiny bird, we merely hop along. One of my favorite quotes is from Saint John Paul II who said: “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” It conveys such unparallel joy – a skyward ascent of heavenly praise. It hardly makes me think of hopping.
Indeed, we are the Easter people and we are meant to rise. Lent is a time to unload the burden of sin we carry. It’s a time to shed the miscellaneous and the excess. It is a time to reconnect to God by disconnecting from our distractions. Sometimes the Lenten experience feels empowering like a strenuous workout or the purging of an overstuffed closet. Other times, it just feels hard. All the emptying, sacrificing, and sustaining from a 40-day reflection can feel too austere for a hallelujah song. No sweet little bird chirps that indicate winter’s hibernation is over. Just a hop, hop. Yet Easter is coming – not just at the end of this Lenten season. Also, at the end of our lives. In between, in the thicket of life’s doing and undoing, we rise. Amidst the momentary affliction of life’s messiness, we remain upright. “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it,” (Ezra 10:4). Even when it’s hard or feels impossible — when there is not enough money, not enough time, not enough of your poor tired soul to go around — be strong and rise. Read more
I have a secret file that I keep on my computer. I know that makes me sound a bit like a CIA operative working on top secret missions. (I cannot confirm or deny this). Admittedly, I have a pretty good cover. A married mother of two who writes about Jesus, hangs out with cats, and moonlights for the government while wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt. You can’t make this stuff up. Or, can you?
Anyway, back to reality. I have this file that I keep on my computer labeled “encouragement.” I know you thought it was going to say “delusions of a Christian writer,” but it doesn’t. It simply reads encouragement. If you were to open it, you would find emails I saved from people who took the time to tell me how my writing touched them. I am not sure what compelled me to start it. (Maybe because I was consumed with self-doubt, terrified that the vulnerabilities I shared would humiliate myself and my family, and perhaps, worse of all, that I was leaving a paper trail of evidence supporting an extended stay in a mental health facility. You know, just your small, everyday concerns). When I would get an email of appreciation or encouragement, it made me feel less alone, braver, and best of all, that I was making a difference. I cherish them. Each kindness feels like a gift from God, encouragement made holy through the sacred gift of love in which it was made. Deleting them felt akin to throwing a fresh bouquet of flowers in the trash. I couldn’t do it. So, I started my secret file, a hoarder of happy words. Read more
Last year, a friend of mine was taken to the emergency room. She had the flu and was in critical condition. Before I rushed to the hospital, I prayed a rosary for her. The memory is like a blur. My head was racing, my rosary beads were twisting, my stomach was clenching, my hands were shaking, and my heart was aching. Even though I sat in a chair in my living room, every part of me seemed to be in motion. I was anxious to get to the emergency room, but from somewhere inside a voice repeated. Pray. Pray. Pray.
When I finished the rosary, I went on Facebook and begged others to pray for her. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I know it included “even if you don’t pray – pray anyway.” I’m not usually that bossy in Facebook posts so I hoped people would get the seriousness of the situation. Even if it wasn’t their friend or their situation, even if they were estranged from God, I needed them to pray. I needed help for my friend. I figured if someone didn’t have their own faith, they could borrow their neighbors and throw something up to God. He’s a great catcher. That’s what he does over and over again – he catches us. He doesn’t get caught up in who knows who, or the grudges someone is holding against him. He isn’t keeping score. He just catches.
I don’t know how many people prayed for her that day but it seemed like an awful lot. At the hospital, I prayed with her children. Friends texted that they were praying. I called our church and asked them to send a priest to pray too. He came and administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. The doctors were doing everything they could, her friends and family were covering her in prayer, and she was fighting like the warrior she was. Read more
When I was little, I loved to watch Popeye the Sailor Man. There was something so good about the one-eyed spinach-eating sailor. He was gruff and marbled his raspy words. His body was disproportionate with massive forearms, and legs that bowed out in curvy clumps. He had a tattoo on his arm, a pipe in his twisted mouth, and Olive Oyl, his waif of a love interest, on his arm.
Wearing a white Navy outfit, he embodied the everyday hero. Maybe that was the draw to him. He wasn’t polished and refined like a prince. He wasn’t movie-star handsome. He didn’t speak eloquently. He ate food from a can. He was mostly bald. Occasionally, he even sported a bit of stubble as if he couldn’t bother with the vanity of beard-grooming. After all, he had bullies like Brutus to fight. In every episode, Popeye ensured that good triumphed over evil.
I grew up believing that people were good. Bad guys were just television entertainment to enforce the seemingly universal truth that we all want the same thing – for the good guy to win, order to exist, and happy endings to prevail. We certainly couldn’t accept the havoc brought by bullies such as Brutus. Read more
“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” seems like such a dark way to portray death. Anyone who has ever lost a beloved knows that death is both cruelly final and endlessly enduring. The love, influence, and lessons the deceased impart doesn’t stop with their heartbeat.
Sprouting from the death of winter into the hope of spring is the fragile bloom of memories that remain in our hearts. It’s a beautiful gift that dulls the thorny sting of loss.
Recently, I attended the rosary of a friend who lost her mother. Comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead are important works of mercy. When my stepfather passed away, I remember well the people who attended the funeral or who stopped by with a meal. It was such a comfort to have our loss acknowledged. It reminds us that even though we lost a loved one, we had not lost love. It envelops us in our cocoon of grief promising life’s joy will reemerge like a butterfly. That’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of when you are grieving. Read more
I used to live in New Orleans where the celebration of Mardi Gras is as huge as one of those oversized floats wobbling down St. Charles Avenue skimming the canopy of oak trees as krewes throw plastic beads at enthusiastic revelers. Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is when Christians are encouraged to reflect on repentance before the solemn season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. I never had the impression that the people smushed together on Bourbon Street reflected anything other than how alcohol really, really lowers inhibitions. Still, I love a parade and feeling like Mr. T from the 1980s television series, The A-Team with 40 pounds of shine dangling from my neck.
Shrove Tuesday is like New Year’s Eve in the secular world. You celebrate, indulge, imbibe. The next day you wake up pop some aspirin, chug water, and begin your resolutions. Lent isn’t as much about resolutions as it is a time to make restitution for ways we have failed God. Maybe that sounds like a buzz kill compared to the revelry of Mardi Gras or even the zeal of New Year’s resolutions, but I love the sobriety of Ash Wednesday. I love going to mass and seeing the community of believers line up to face mortality with the meekness of remorse and hope that is mercy. It’s not just lining up for ashes, it’s realigning ourselves with God. It’s committing to taking off the weight of sin, to stripping away anything that separates us from our Savior and preparing ourselves for the joy that resurrection brings.
It’s odd that we wear such fine attire on our wedding day when marriage is so messy. It seems like it would be smarter to wear body armor or at least a sturdy raincoat to better prepare us. Yet, the bride and groom don lace and bow ties, veils and patent leather, pearls and cuff links, willingly pledging themselves until death to the life of the other.
It’s all so genteel, it’s hard to imagine the years that follow are anything other than champagne and roses. But champagne causes headaches, roses come with thorns, and marriage is messy. It makes sense though because we humans are messy. We come with pasts, preferences, and a penchant to think we are right.
Often there is no right, only two people who see things from different viewpoints. It can be ever so complicated. I know marriages are not invincible. I never approached the sacrament with body armor. Like so many others, I began the journey in white lace, a full skirt, and optimism that outshined any intricate beading or sparkling tiara.
We start out thinking marriage is going to be a gentle dance like the carefully choreographed one we perform on our wedding day. Inevitably, in marriage, there are missteps, clumsy moves, and moments when we or our partners let go instead of hold tight. Or sometimes, you just pick the wrong partner and no matter how many times you try to twist, they tango. Read more